Report on the coping with stress talk given on 31 October 2007
David Craigie of Craigie Partnership spoke on this at Anderson Strathern. We are grateful to our speaker and to our hosts. Here are some notes from the talk, followed by some resources that first David then business matters recommend. David’s background is in Occupational Psychology – well-being at work. He has a particular interest in stress and anxiety management as well as occupational testing and career counselling.
Stress is a very popular topic: just about everyone in the working population has at some point experienced stress or knows someone who has. It is one of the biggest challenges of our time – reflected in the large turnout for this talk.
Definition of work – the things that people do. This includes paid employment, voluntary work, proactive unemployment, any self-employment, and service in any organisation – for example: churches, clubs, societies. People have many working roles in life; they are not just a “worker” for a wage / salary.
Services David Craigie provides (flyers available):
- Organisations – helping measure risk of stress in the workplace, recruitment of the right candidate for the right role, employee relations, focus groups etc.
- Career counselling – helping people explore their careers. Perhaps a new job, also changing roles, assertiveness training, etc.
- Individual services – anxiety and stress management, using a coaching model.
Outline of talk:
1 – Stress in Organisations
2 – Stress in Individuals
3 – Some Solutions for Stress
What is stress?
What might a dictionary definition be?
- Is it a feeling?
- Is it an external pressure?
- Is it a reaction to something?
During his Occupational Psychology studies for his MSc at Birkbeck, University of London, David once heard an authoritative presentation on: “Stress doesn’t exist!” The contention was basically: stress is very hard to define. It is much easier to define terms such as pressure, pain or fatigue.
Health and Safety Executive’s / HSE’s definition:
‘The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.’
1. Stress in Organisations
There are 3 main reasons why organisations should be interested in stress:
1 – Legal reason
2 – Business reason
3 – People reason
- The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act means that organisations need to take measures to control the risk of stress in the workplace
- The 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations mean that organisations need to assess the risk of stress-related ill-health arising from work activities
HSE did something that on the one hand is incredibly helpful to organisations, and at the same time is very problematic: they set standards. This is the equivalent of Moses going up the mountain and coming down with a set of stone tablets for people to follow. Mixed reactions!
6 key areas identified in the standards are as follows:
Roles (e.g. demands or clarity)
There are many negative effects of stress in the workplace:
- Low morale
- High sickness
- Low productivity
- High turnover
Organisations are made up of people, and the culture and values of an organisation may be such that there is a sincere concern for the well-being of individuals. If so, so much the better, e.g. they will retain staff well.
This also has an impact on the organisation’s reputation and image.
2. Stress in Individuals
When an individual finds him- or herself in a situation where the external pressures exceed their ability to cope, then stress can result.
Every individual is unique and personality differences play a part.
- A structured individual may find it hard to cope when there are no clear boundaries or framework.
- An unstructured individual may find it stressful where there are too many boundaries and regulations.
- An extrovert may get very stressed if they do not have enough people contact.
- An introvert may find it overwhelming to be in an open-plan office environment with no personal space.
Stress in teams can also result from having different styles of dealing with issues.
The signs and symptoms of stress fall into 3 main categories:
1 – Physical symptoms e.g. indigestion, tension, headaches, difficulty sleeping
2 – Mental symptoms e.g. thoughts racing, always focusing on negatives, paranoia, anxiety
3 – Behavioural symptoms e.g. lack of patience, snapping at people, excessive use of caffeine/alcohol
Sometimes people close to us find it easier to spot when we are stressed. Why not ask a close friend or relative to tell you how they know if you are stressed?
Don’t think of yourself in a “binary” way as stressed or not stressed. Think of where you may be on a gradual spectrum or on a scale. For instance, on a stress thermometer you could have readings like:
On a scale of 1 to 10, an individual can identify their stress levels at that moment in time.
Many life events increase our susceptibility to stress. Not all events need be negative:
e.g. moving house, changing jobs, getting married, getting divorced, bereavements, changing roles within a workplace, new relationships, financial concerns, family issues, and so on.
3. Solutions for Stress
The first step is always to become aware of stress and its potential causes in your situation. What stresses one person may not stress another.
For individuals, you can think about the 3 key areas where stress manifests itself – mind, body and actions – and if it is you in question, you can also ask people close to you if they think you are stressed.
Tips for the mind
- Take your stressful thoughts out of your mind and write them on paper – this can help give you perspective and offer new solutions.
- Distraction is a good short-term technique (but be careful not to avoid facing up to long-term problems) – read a book, watch a film, talk with friends, etc.
- Imagine yourself giving advice to someone else in a similar situation – what would you say to help them? This helps increase objectivity.
Tips for the body
- Look after your body and help give it the best opportunity to cope with stress – a good diet, plenty of water, regular exercise all play a part.
- Avoid excessive use of caffeine or alcohol as these contribute to longer term problems.
- Learn relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing techniques – these are proven to help reduce physical symptoms associated with stress and anxiety and can promote a general sense of well-being.
Tips for the way we do things
- Try to be proactive rather than reactive. If you know you have a busy project coming up, then perhaps that’s not the time to start re-decorating your house. If you are going through difficult times, be kind to yourself and factor in time for pleasurable activities.
- Other people may give us tasks to do, but very often we are the ones who set our own deadlines. Take control of your diary and learn to negotiate with others or delegate.
- If you struggle to get exercise or to eat healthily, start with small steps – why not get off one bus-stop early and walk an extra 10 minutes per day, or take one piece of fruit with you to work as a snack instead of reaching for the coffee and biscuits?
- Teach yourself (or get training in) assertiveness techniques. It is possible to say no or to negotiate timescales without jeopardising relationships.
- Invest time in good relationships and friendships, as this can help as a buffer to stress. Having a friend to talk to can see you through a difficult time.
So much for self-help. At times we may need outside help, incl from our GP.
Q and A time – a sample
What to do when you feel panicky?
One idea is to talk yourself round, as in: I can get through this. I just need to get a bit of perspective. I can do one thing at a time and gradually chisel away at the stress.
What one thing can de-stress you the most in a working day?
Take 10 minutes out of the office at lunchtime. Go for a walk. This is good for you mentally as well as physically. Don’t stay in the same space, even if you think you are doing something really relaxing in it, e.g. if you have been on the PC all morning, don’t think it will be really good for you to go onto your favourite website, because it is only partly relaxing if you continue to look at your PC in your lunch-hour.
What about getting employees to take up the opportunities to get training in coping with stress? – especially men!
It needs to start at the top, with senior people taking the training and thereby showing everyone else this is ok to do. That can help overcome the perceived stigma such training may carry. Also, find ways for people who have done the training to feed back positives from their training.
Further information on stress at work can be found on
And on this award-winning Scottish site:
The Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives
The Scottish Association for Mental Health – commonly called “SAM – H”
Best practice: e.g.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Inc, Canada
A popular book, available e.g. in pharmacies:
How to Cope Successfully with Stress at Work by Beth MacEoin